My reaction is mostly one of surprise. I am surprised that Google wants this issue discussed in the press. I am surprised that Google wants this aired in the court of public opinion.
Google is trying to draw a line on what use of behavior data is acceptable. Google clearly thinks they are on the right side of that line, and I do too, but I'm not sure the average searcher would agree. And that is why Google is playing a dangerous game here, one that could backfire on them badly.
Let's take a look at what Google Fellow Amit Singhal said:
This experiment confirms our suspicion that Bing is using some combination of:Of course, what Amit does not mention here is that the widely installed Google Toolbar
or possibly some other means to send data to Bing on what people search for on Google and the Google search results they click.
- Internet Explorer 8, which can send data to Microsoft via its Suggested Sites feature
- the Bing Toolbar, which can send data via Microsoft’s Customer Experience Improvement Program
By raising this issue, Google very publicly is trying to draw a particular line on how toolbar and web browsing data should be used, and that may be a dangerous thing for Google to do. The average searcher, for example, may want that line drawn somewhere other than where Google might expect it to be drawn -- they may want it drawn at not using any toolbar/Chrome data for any purposes, or even not using any kind of behavior data at all -- and, if that line is drawn somewhere other than where Google wants it, Google could be hurt badly. That is why I am surprised that Google is coming out so strong here.
As for the particular issue of whether this is copying or not, I don't have much to say on that, but I think the most thought-provoking piece I have seen related to that question is John Langford's post, "User preferences for search engines". John argues that searchers own their browsing behavior and can reveal what they do across the web to whoever they want to. Whether you agree or not with that, it is worth reading John's thoughts on it and considering what you think might be the alternative.
Update: A few days later, search industry watcher Danny Sullivan writes, "In short, Google doesn’t occupy any higher ground than Microsoft, from what I can see, when it comes to using data gathered from browser add-ons to improve its own services, including its search engine." Whether you think Danny is right or not, his article demonstrates that Google was wrong in thinking they would easily win if they took this fight to the press.